BusinessObjects v Other BI Tools

So what is the best BI Reporting Tool on the market today?

This is a difficult decision and one which is subject to personal preferences. I’ve worked with a number of BI tools over the years using products such as:

  • Business Objects
  • Cognos
  • ProClarity (now Performance Point Server)
  • Panorama
  • SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services)
  • Oracle Forms & Reports
  • …a bit of Crystal

So which of these is the best BI reporting tool?

Panorama and ProClarity provide a ‘freshness’ to reporting. Users find their tools easy to use and the type of output these products generate should really make the larger BI vendors sit up and take notice. ProClarity introduced a number of new graphical representations of data which I haven’t seen in other products. I’m not sure why, but once you play around with these charts, you can’t help but be impressed. One of my favorites graphical displays is the heat map. An example of a heat map in action can be found here. This example shows the the NASDAQ-100 in one dimension. ProClarity allows you to add another dimension which will determine the size of boxes depending on a second variable. Nice.

I haven’t used Cognos products for a while, so my opinion may be outdated. However, I didn’t find it’s product suite as integrated as that of BusinessObjects. It does have it’s fan base however, and it’s customer base suggests it is no small player. Recently bought out by IBM, it is going to give BusinessObjects a real fight. I welcome this. You need companies to be competing with each other to push forward innovation.

I found that Oracle Forms/Reports and Crystal Reports good for static reporting – the kind of reports that are not likely to change any time soon. Crystal is an excellent product, especially if you want to embed reports into existing code or applications. It is fairly simple to pick up and I find it quite powerful. One of BusinessObjects’ better purchases I think. To be fair to Oracle, I haven’t used it’s BI product suite. Hyperion, which was bought by Oracle, was a highly regarded BI vendor, so I am sure Oracles BI suite is impressive. Note to self: I should really become familiar with Oracle BI.

And finally, SSRS. To be honest I’m not a massive fan of SSRS. It not really and end user type of product.  However, its low entry price (and often no additional cost as most sites will be using SQL Server) make this a popular choice. However, I don’t think it offers the features of some other products in my list. Things are changing in the Microsoft camp however. Following it’s purchase of ProClarity, it has integrated it’s BI toolset into Performance Point Server. Microsoft has quite a strong BI case now. For sites using SQL Server as it’s database, it now has an attractive stack whereby for a low cost, users can product OLAP cubes, develop powerful reports, and integrate all of this into the well established Office suite of products. At the end of the day, many sites have been using Excel as their ‘reporting tool’. It is going to be difficult to wrestle users away from Excel, and with Microsoft building on that platform, it is making life difficult for the bigger BI players.

So what about BusinessObjects? It is now quite a mature product, and immensely powerful. I dare say that most users merely scratch the surface of what BusinessObjects is capable of. Its products are very well integrated, and it offers a full product stack from the warehouse ETL to dashboards. But that is exactly the point. I find BusinessObjects strong in Query and Analysis and ETL, but weak in Analytics and Dashboards. Yes, BusinessObjects has Xcelcius and Performance Manager, but I do believe that Panorama and Performance Point Server/ProClarity offer a better Analytic/Dashboard tool.

So what do  prefer? Difficult to nail it down, but if I were setting up from scratch:

  1. BusinessObjects Data Integrator for ETL. (I know Informatica is the market leader, but Data Integrator really is a fantastic product and integrates well with the rest of the BusinessObjects stack).
  2. BusinessObjects XIR2 for Query and Analysis (XI 3.0 is not yet established enough)
  3. Panorama or Performance Point Server for Analytics and Dashboards.

It should be interesting over the next few months. XI 3.0 will become more established, PPS should begin to mature and integrate more functionality from it’s ProClarity purchase, and it will be interesting to see how much influence SAP and IBM have on their recent purchases.

I’m keen to hear your views. Feel free to share your views and comments – I’ll add them to the post. It is quite lonely in the blogosphere…

Addendum: SAS are also a strong player in this market space. However, it appears to be somewhat of a closed shop. I have no experience of SAS. Anyone care to add a comment comparing SAS to the other tools I have discussed?

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4 Responses to “BusinessObjects v Other BI Tools”

  1. Nizam Says:

    Well to start with its nice to see people talking about competing technologies in BI. Just to add to your last comment, SAS is very much in the market space but its not that active in the BI space per say. When i say BI it means reporting.
    However if you need analytics like a z transform and other complex algo based formulas you have to goto either SPSS or SAS. They are more or less a niche player.

    I would suggest you have a look at the Gartner Quadrant you would see a product by the name BOARD MIT. Its the only product in both BI and CPM quadrant.

    You would also wanna have a look at http://www.bi-survey.com This is a 3rd party survey done for last 7 yrs now and compares various products of BI.

    One question i had…can BO cube hold 1TB data??
    Ciao

  2. weldblog Says:

    Nizam

    I agree that SAS is pretty much a niche product. I beleive it is more of a data mining tool allowing you to extract interesting ‘anomolies’ from vast data sets.

    I’ve come across Nigel Pendse’s bi-survey before, more specifically his OLAP report. I haven’t actually seen a copy of the bi-survey itself. At a cost of $4995, it is out of my reach. Perhaps I can convince the boss to buy a corporate copy? But I have read his reviews of BusinessObjects XI and ProClarity and he is very thorough and honest. I really value his views and opinions.

    With regards to your question on BO cubes. This is not a term I tend to use in the BusinessObjects world. I tend to think in terms of universes and reports. However, behind the scenes, all reports are based on a ‘cube’ of sorts. I can’t answer you question with any certainty regarding the 1Tb limit. To be honest, I could never forsee a situation where you would want to create a report holding 1Tb of data, let alone have the hardware resource to display it. I’ve seen users create reports running to hundreds of pages, without them really understanding what they want to do with it. ASk them what they are going to do, and you will often get a answer along the lines of ‘I want to export to Excel so that I can get some summary figures’. Makes you want to tear your hair out sometimes.

    Going back to the 1Tb question. Surely you would hold this kind of data in a warehouse, and then create aggregations and OLAP cubes, from which you would run reports? Add the drill down funtionality and you can get to specific details of your data. If you are talking about cubes in the sense of OLAP cubes, generated by SQL Server, then subject to you having the hardware resources to process the cube, then you probably could get away with a cube this size. Why you would though is beyond me. I would create multiple small aggregated cubes that answer specific questions rather than create one catch all cube. The whole purpose of cubes is to present to the user a highly aggregated subset of your data and deliver the answers very quickly via a front end application. Large cubes defeat the purpose in my opinion.

    If your question is specific to BusinessObjects, you might get a more accurate response from the Business Objects forum. I suggest posting a question there.

    Thanks for your comment anyway.

  3. MikeD Says:

    Interesting observations but maybe I can add to this as I’ve spent most of my BI career in and around the BO realm and left it last year for a period of 10 months to work with a Cognos reseller. I’m back doing BO XI 3.0 migrations etc but I’m considering a return back to Cognos. If asking for a qucik comparison, I’d look immediately at the base development tools: Designer (BO) and Framework Manager (Cognos) and say without a doubt that Cognos is superior!
    And I don’t state this lightly with any particular alliance or preference, it just IS lol. The fact that it integrates OLAP so well and that you have a development model (project) that can contain any number of packages with combinations of Marts and Cubes, is something BO has forsaken for the eye candy acquisitions and Crystal consolidation.
    Don’t get me wrong, BO have put together a very slick wide encompassing platform with XI 3.0 and I don’t like the fact that Cognos 8.3 opens up new IE windows for each user selection, but from a solution development perspective where you are always scrabbling around to include all sorts of data contents and sizes into a reporting realm, my vote goes with Cognos.

    That being said – I’m still a tad shocked that every site I encounter to help or advise on BO, has not taken the opportunity to use the migration to deprecate their BO desktop solutions in favor of Crystal.

    Sure BO has it’s Xcelcius etc, but they are pretty expensive and I think they’re battling with their sales in this area as most of the BO clients I know are generic base reporting users.
    The guys further up the IMM chain, adopted their analytical stuff way before BO was ready for it and they won’t budge many of them off SAS etc

    Pentaho is definitely worth keeping an eye on. along with Qikview etc
    BO does give the corporate entity a sense of relief at consolidating a number of different toolsets under one account umbrella, but I don’t think it really matters to have your basic reporting and hardcore analytics all served up on the banquet table.
    I know that’s what the vendor’s are selling, and yes it does make sense to be able to drill back to the base figures, but how many orgs have actually streamlined their departments into functional operational units that can handle data at ALL levels?

    😉

  4. khanection Says:

    MikeD has some interesting points to share. I have worked on Business Objects, Hyperion Essbase and MicroStrategy in the past. i’d like to point out that we should stick with comparing apples to apples and not apples to oranges. I find it unfair to compare pure ROLAP tools to OLAP cubes. i don’t know whether MikeD meant Congos connects to an OLAP cube as a data source or produces one like Essbase, but BO is more of a ROLAP tool… OK it does build a microcube but that’s internal to the report. So comparing BO with a product like Essbase is not 100% fair… They are not direct competitors. Sort of like comparing SUVs with Luxury Sedans?
    There are pros and cons of going ROLAP or OLAP. Flexibility vs. Speed as what i find most important.
    MikeD also mentions that Xcelsius is expensive… i find it cheap at $900 for the full product. BO was the first BI vendor (that i know) to integrate Flash / Flex visual into dashboards; MicroStrategy was soon to follow.
    I have found Essbase to be a super product, mostly because of it’s Excel integration. I am a major fan of Excel and for this one reason would love to deploy a Microsoft BI solution to see how it integrates with Excel. Companies spend millions of dollars deploying BI solutions only to find end users using the tools only for data extraction. The analysis happens in Excel 😦
    Lastly, my bottom line belief is that the tool does not matter as much as the Data Warehouse design does. I have seen many projects family b/c of poorly designed Data Warehouses. You could have the world best BI tool sit on the world’s worst DW and it’s a failure. Yet, if we have a cheap tool sit on a robust DW, users get what they want when they want it. Of course DW is not the sole ingredient in the soup but i find it to be the most important and unfortunately most ignored.


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